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Right to religion not above public morality: SC

Confirming the sacking of a government servant for bigamy, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the fundamental right to religion did not include practices which ran counter to public order, health and morality.

The judgment by a Bench of Justices T.S. Thakur and A.K. Goel was on a petition filed by Khursheed Ahmad Khan against the Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to remove him from service as Irrigation Supervisor for contracting a second marriage when his first marriage was still in existence.

His ouster was based on Rule 29 (1) of the Uttar Pradesh Government Servant Conduct Rules, 1956.

Mr. Khan challenged the constitutionality of the provision in the 1956 Rules, arguing that it violated his right to freely practice his religion.

But the Bench dismissed his contention. Justice Goel, who wrote the verdict, quoted the apex court’s 2003 judgment in Javed versus State of Haryana that “a practice did not acquire sanction of religion simply because it was permitted.”

“What was protected under Article 25 was the religious faith and not a practice which may run counter to public order, health or morality. Polygamy was not integral part of religion and monogamy was a reform within the power of the State under Article 25,” Justice Goel wrote.

The court further noted that no material was shown on record to prove that Mr. Khan had divorced his first wife, and moreover, his service record still showed his first wife’s name.

“Sharp distinction must be drawn between religious faith and belief and religious practices. What the State protects is religious faith and belief. If religious practices run counter to public order, morality or health or a policy of social welfare upon which the State has embarked, then the religious practices must give way before the good of the people of the State as a whole,” the judgment reproduced the 1952 judicial precedent in the Narasu Appa Mali case.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 11:32:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/right-to-religion-not-above-public-morality-sc/article6876039.ece

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